EDEN PRAIRIE, Minn. — Kevin Williams, the anchor of the Minnesota Vikings defensive line for the past 10 years who has been to six Pro Bowls, has been ruled out for Sunday’s regular-season opener at Detroit because of a knee injury suffered in the third preseason game.
Williams, 33, is still dealing with a bone bruise from taking a low hit from San Francisco 49ers backup offensive lineman Joe Looney on Aug. 25 on what the Vikings felt was a “dirty” hit, though the league ruled the play was legal. Looney turned back to block an unsuspecting Williams with a chop block and Williams’ right knee hyperextended.
Williams hasn’t practiced since the hit, but was walking on his own Friday in Minnesota’s locker room, free from the crutch he used last week, and said he’s “real hopeful” he will play the following week at Chicago.
“It did bruise the bone pretty bad and then it did have the hyperextension on the (posterior cruciate ligament),” Williams said. “It all got to kind of work together and heal up. The swelling is out, now we just got to let the injury heal.”
Williams hasn’t missed a game due to injury since 2005 and has only missed four games in his entire 10-year career. He missed the first two games of 2011 because of a suspension in the Star Caps case and missed two games in 2005 because of a right knee injury.
Playing 156 of a potential 160 regular-season games in his career, Williams said it was “frustrating” he has to miss this week. He said he might have been able to get ready to play this week, but the team didn’t want to risk any further injury.
“I’d be shocked if I didn’t play next week,” Williams said.
Williams said he didn’t hear from Looney after the hit. Looney said he didn’t mean to hurt Williams and the league ruled that he didn’t violate the new peel-back block rule. But it didn’t appease Williams and his teammates, who felt the low hit was unnecessary.
Williams said he was “shocked” by the hit and was simply hoping he hadn’t torn anything in the knee.
“I mean, he say he wasn’t trying to,” Williams said Friday. “He said what he said and what he did are two different things. I didn’t think there was any place for it. He could have hit me high.”
The Vikings will try and replace Williams with a rotation of tackles Letroy Guion, Fred Evans, Sharrif Floyd, and possibly Chase Baker on Sunday. Defensive end Everson Griffen will likely see time inside as well, a position they’ve used Griffen in the past as a pass rusher.
“It will be a mix,” coach Leslie Frazier said. “Kevin, we’re going to miss him obviously, he’s been a cornerstone for us at that position. But the other guys, they’re going to step up and they’re going to play well.”
Frazier said the team hasn’t decided who will start in Williams’ place. Floyd, the rookie No. 23 overall draft pick out of Florida, is coming back from his own knee injury suffered in the preseason. Floyd had practiced on a limited basis all week after he had minor surgery in the preseason but was listed as a full participant Friday.
Floyd is considered the heir apparent to Williams inside and Minnesota has tried to get Floyd acclimated quickly to help offset the loss of Williams.
“I think he’s ready,” Frazier said of Floyd. “He’s had a good week of practice, hasn’t shown any adverse effects from that injury. He’s done everything that we’ve asked him to do, so we’re going to let him go.”
Before his injury, coaches had been pleased with how quickly Floyd was developing. The injury set him back, but a week of practice has him ready to go.
“I think he’ll be fine,” Williams said. “We drafted him in the first round for a reason. He can play and he has Fred, Letroy, Jared (Allen). Those guys will help him out on Sunday and get him through.”